Words and Photos by Steve White
Brix Smith, once a key part of Mancunian post punks The Fall and latterly front person of Brix and The Extricated, has now, in her own words, put together “the motherfucker of girl bands”. Consisting of Deb Googe of My Bloody Valentine and the Turston Moore group on bass, Jen Macro of My Bloody Valentine and Hurtling on guitar and keyboards together with Ros Cairney on guitar and Vas Antoniadou on drums both of London based Deux Furieuses you know before they even strike a note that this is going to be one opening set not to be missed.
Despite their short existence prior to tonight and this being only the second date on the tour supporting PiL they simply ooze confidence as they deliver a set of fantastic songs that range in tempo from the deep, resounding noise of opener Aphrodite to the grungy pace of Valley Girl and the fast paced, rocking beats of Say I’m Your Number One and California Smile. Thankfully it’s a quick photo I took of the set list that’s allowed me to name some songs because, with the exception of one, the whole of Brix’s set tonight is taken from her new album – Valley Of The Dolls (co-written and produced by Killing Joke’s Youth) – that hasn’t been released yet. It takes guts to do that, to play a set of songs fully aware that few, if any, in the crowd, not even fans, will have heard before. Yet such is the song-writing talent of Brix Smith and her ability to produce songs with real attitude, energy and feeling underpinned by guitar driven pop(ish) sounds those present warm to her, her band and the songs immediately.
There is one concession to times gone by with a great interpretation of Totally Wired. It’s an excellent 45 minutes and a perfect taster for an album that will now, hopefully, be sought out by a large number of those here tonight.
Public Image Ltd broke new musical ground with their debut album over 40 years ago. Second album, Metal Box, completely rewrote the rules of what post-punk could be, and they’ve continued to sound like only PiL can sound ever since. John Lydon – love him or hate him – has never wavered from his “Fuck you, I don’t care what you think” attitude towards those who criticise him and has always delivered a truly unique live performance. The current PiL line-up of Lydon, Lu Edmonds, Bruce Smith and Scott Firth, the longest lasting and most stable, has evolved into a truly tight musical unit.
Edmonds, Smith and Firth walk on stage and rather than that unmistakeable bass intro of Public Image, or the tell tale dance beat of Warrior they launch into the heavy, reverberating Religion. Lydon strolls on stage, that grin and piercing stare across his face, and together they hammer home one of the best openers to a gig you’re ever likely to hear.
This doesn’t look, or sound, like an opening song to get warmed up. It’s colossal. Absolutely huge. Edmonds guitar, Firth’s driving bass and Smith’s pounding drums can be felt through the floor. I’m in the pit and you can see the stage monitors vibrating. But this is all nothing compared to Lydon’s voice as he yells the chorus, shaking like a man possessed. The quieter moments give him time to eyeball the crowd and take in his surroundings before his face once again contorts with the sheer energy he puts into “This is religion!” Religion gives way to the irresistible dance groove and strangled guitar of Memories, Lydon shuffling as he wails out the words. Three songs in and it’s another complete change of tone as the more chart friendly, rocky sounds of Disappointed and it’s repetitive chant of “What friends are for?” fill the venue. By this point you know that, despite a four year absence from the live scene, the stresses of a court battle and a home life dedicated to supporting a loved one, John Lydon/Public Image Ltd are, once again, going to be superb.
There’s the occasional falter in Lydon’s vocal delivery but no one cares when he puts so much energy and passion into what he does on stage. Warrior, when it’s played, is superb and has the place bouncing. Tonight is like locking yourself in a huge dance hall where you’re pummelled with some of the heaviest, darkest, droning, tribal dance grooves to exist anywhere, all overlaid with that unmistakeable voice. Corporate, the chirpy The One, the howling vocals and piercing, scratchy guitar of Death Disco, the more upbeat rhythm of Out Of The Woods. All are hypnotic, irresistible beats that see aging punks and Mohican decked youngsters dancing in an almost trance like state. It’s a constant reminder that Public Image Ltd are unique. PiL are PiL. No-one else could sound like they do and Lydon, whether he’s yelling into his mic or waving his arms or moving around the stage or simply gobbing excessive phlegm into a full size dustbin, dominates the room like no other person fronting a band could ever hope to do. There’s the expected short, but angry, rant about ‘Pistol’ and Bags is dedicated to Mr Boyle.
They close the main set with a couple of huge crowd pleasers. This Is Not A Love Song sees people dancing and singing before the place erupts into Public Image. John Lydon says a simple “Goodbye”, tells us they’re off for a quick cigarette and that if we want an encore we need to let them know.
They do return, Lydon slags off the other Sex Pistols, mentions the court case and launches into Shoom and it’s “Fuck off, Fucking bollocks …… Here’s another Fuck Off”.
Open Up follows Shoom before a perfect Rise concludes the night. Once again Public Image Ltd have shown how good being completely individual and unique can be and once again John Lydon has given a big “Fuck You” to those who constantly want to pick holes in everything he does.